THE DIMINUTIVE Garry Moore, with his crew cut, bow tie and easygoing personality, was one of the pioneer hosts of American television. At one time he was its highest-paid performer.
Born Garrison Morfit, he worked for various radio stations as sports commentator, newsreader and comedy writer before going to Chicago to join the variety series Club Matinee as a 22-year-old comedian. He soon launched a contest, offering dollars 50 to the listener who could give him a better name. After three years on the show, the name Garry Moore was sufficiently well known for NBC-Radio to sign him as host of the musical quiz Beat the Band. In 1942 he became the star of a six-days-a-week morning show. It was called The Show Without a Name until he launched another contest, and a listener won dollars 500 for rechristening it Everything Goes.
In 1943 NBC, needing a replacement for Abbott and Costello's radio series, teamed Moore with Jimmy Durante. Moore's erudition contrasted ideally with Durante's East Side malapropisms. The show's writers - of which Moore was one - also played up the two-decade gap between the co-stars' birth dates. Every time Garry scored with a gag, Jimmy would say with paternal pride, 'Dat's my boy who said dat]'
In 1947 the partnership was amicably dissolved when Moore decided to go out on his own. After various radio jobs, he turned, in 1950, to 'this strange new contraption, TV'. The Garry Moore Show was a five-mornings-a-week melange of sketches, music and conversation. Despite a low budget, it was sufficiently offbeat to attract such guests as Victor Borge, Carl Sandburg, Melvyn Douglas, Hoagy Carmichael, James Michener, Buster Keaton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gene Krupa and Louis Armstrong. Weekly auditions led to the booking of the then-unknown Johnny Carson, Harry Belafonte, Dick Van Dyke and, in 1956, Carol Burnett. She auditioned on a Tuesday, after which Moore told her 'You're on this Friday.' The Garry Moore Show ran for eight years and 1,065 editions.
The following autumn Moore began a weekly Tuesday night series, also called The Garry Moore Show. During its second season, Carol Burnett was a huge success. Moore later invited her to be on the show every week, and she stayed for three years. In her autobiography, Burnett wrote: 'That was the beginning of the most durable positive professional relationship I've ever had. He is loved by everyone who worked with him.'
CBS-TV loved Moore too; he was also the host of their long-running panel game I've Got A Secret. His Tuesday night show won two Emmy awards, and was still getting high ratings when he gave it up in 1964. 'I'm tired,' he said. 'I've been in front of the cameras since the days of silent TV.'
In 1966 he was coaxed back in a highly touted series called, inevitably, The Garry Moore Show. Although designed to draw viewers away from NBC's high-rated Bonanza, it received bad reviews and poor ratings. Carol Burnett made a memorable guest appearance, other strong editions followed, but the show was cancelled and Moore went into virtual retirement.